Maurice Levy offers barbed ‘tribute’ to old rival Sir Martin Sorrell following resignation

Maurice Levy

Former Publicis Groupe chief executive Maurice Levy, has continued his war of words with the now former chief executive of WPP and long-time rival, Sir Martin Sorrell while paying tribute to the company in turn.

Levy offered his views on the surprise resignation of Sorrell to The Drum, having long held a feud going back to their days prior to the formation of WPP, when neither held the reigns of two of the world’s largest agency networks.

The two have never seen eye-to-eye and have enjoyed barbed comments about one another, much to the enjoyment of many in the usually more guarded business sector.

In fact, Sorrell once described Levy as “the Freddy Kruger of the advertising industry” in response to his French rival stating that he would not miss Sir Martin upon his retirement in 2017.

Levy and Sorrell both have relayed different stories about their first meetings as well.

Levy claimed that the first meeting was in the presence of Maurice Saatchi in London when a deal was being discussed to create a joint venture with Saatchi & Saatchi, a deal Levy claimed he advised against. Sorrell was then chief financial officer for the now Publicis-owned advertising agency.

"I had a great relationship with Maurice [Saatchi] but from that day I had a less great relationship with Martin," he offered at the time.

Sorrell refuted Levy's story of their first encounter, which he described as "a revisionist view of history" and claimed that the first meeting actually took place in Paris in the early 70s, rather than in London as a Levy had recounted.

He explained that he and Saatchi visited Publicis founder Marcel Bleustein-Blanchet at his offices, when the agency had ambition to grow into the US.

"I can see it now, we were sitting next to each other, Blanchet was in front of us behind a desk and Maurice was standing next to him. The reason I remember it, when Maurice Saatchi explained about our grand vision for Saatchi's, Blanchet – the emblem of Publicis is a lion remember – said in French "on velvet paws' which really stuck in my mind. I remember Maurice [Levy] standing there during the whole meeting and was asked during various points to go and get the coffee."

The pair have ‘enjoyed’ lunches together however, Levy has also revealed, and the pair were photographed together alongside other rival network chiefs in Cannes alongside Ban Ki-moon.

On Sorrell’s resignation, Levy stated: “It is sad to see Sir Martin Sorrell resign amid the investigation into his alleged personal misconduct. Indisputably, Martin has built WPP as we know it: the world’s largest advertising company and a fierce competitor.

"He may have been lacking in vision on occasion, yet I retain that he shaped a truly world-class group.

"It is well known that our relationships were difficult but I have always had respect for the entrepreneur and chief executive: he always had the will to win making all competitions against him extremely interesting and challenging.

“By contrast, I would be hard pressed to say the same thing for the man and his behaviors: the press is full of examples.

“I wish Godspeed to him and to the people of WPP in this challenging period."

Recently, Levy offered The Drum advice on how businesses went about handling their succession planning, with Arthur Sadoun having taken over at Publicis Groupe from him last year.

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